In any workplace, verbal communication skills are a must-have for every team member because without effective verbal communication, individuals are unable to communicate their needs and experiences with each other, and management cannot effectively coach or lead. Verbal communication skills are not the only type of communication skills necessary in the workplace nor are they the most important type of communication skill in every workplace. However, they are a necessary skill for success in every working environment, and business owners and team leaders can improve their teams’ outputs by developing their teams’ verbal communication skills.

Using games and other verbal communication exercises as a way to build verbal ability is popular with team leaders across industries. With these kinds of activities, team members are actively engaged and develop skills by using them rather than sitting passively and trying to absorb information like they would with a lecture-type training.

Why Develop Verbal Ability?

Verbal communication skills as well as other types of communication skills are critical skills for employees in every sector. Other types of communication skills include:

  • Nonverbal communication
  • Written communication
  • Visual communication

Verbal ability is the backbone of many – and in some positions, all – employee interactions. Employees have to accurately communicate with each other to complete work tasks, with customers to serve their needs and with their supervisors to propose ideas and seek solutions to the challenges they face. Although we all speak each day, effective verbal communication is not a skill with which humans are born. It is a skill that can be taught and must be cultivated.

Effective verbal communication involves:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Empathy
  • An understanding of word choice, tone and the nuances in commonly used words and phrases
  • Engaged listening
  • Confidence
  • Reading the other person’s emotional cues

Building Complementary Skills

Another important component of effective verbal communication is gauging the listener’s understanding of the topic being discussed and adjusting language to suit his understanding level. Technical terms and jargon are appropriate for a conversation between two colleagues working on the same project, but a person unfamiliar with the project or the field might not understand these terms. With every type of communication, verbal and otherwise, the goal is for the speaker to be understood.

Verbal communication activities do not just teach verbal communication skills. They can also help employees develop leadership skills, build a cohesive team foundation and develop critical thinking skills. These skills are not just useful for communication among colleagues, but they are also put to use in interactions with customers, with vendors and distributors and with representatives of outside organizations partnering with a company.

Teams can engage in a variety of activities for verbal communication development. Learn about some popular activities for developing verbal communication skills among a team.

Word Description Activity

To do this activity, the team breaks into pairs. Then, one partner from each pair is given a word to describe to his partner. He cannot say the word to his partner, and in some variations of this activity, he is also given a set of words commonly paired with it. Without using the words he is prohibited from saying, he must communicate the word to his partner.

For example, a participant might be given the word “tree.” He then uses words associated with trees, like “leaf,” “bark,” “ring” and “growth” to try to push his partner to answer “tree.” Often, this activity is timed, so the guessing partner has to try to guess the correct word within the allotted time limit.

Elephant List Activity

The elephant list activity is an ideal way for managers to understand the challenges their teams face and for colleagues to discuss these challenges in an open, nonjudgmental environment. Each participant writes down her “elephants in the room” – the challenges she faces in the workplace – on individual sticky notes. She then labels each elephant with a C, an I or an A. These letters stand for:

  • C = issues she can control
  • I = issues she can influence
  • A = issues she must simply accept

The activity leader collects each participant’s elephants and places them on a whiteboard or the wall in three columns, each labeled with one of the three letters. Then, he asks the group to weigh in on whether each elephant is placed accurately and if not, which other column would make the most sense for it. After determining where each elephant should be placed, the group focuses on the C and the I columns – the issues that can be changed.

In the final part of this activity, the group brainstorms ways to handle the challenges they are facing. Through this activity, individuals might see that they are not the only ones facing the challenges they face, and some might gain a new perspective on issues they thought were minor or did not realize were happening in their workplace. The activity leader drives the discussion by asking questions that invite discussion, validating experiences and working with the team to develop strategies to make the workplace a healthier, happier setting.

Role Playing Activity

Role playing is all about communication, so it is a great tool to use to teach teams how to effectively communicate with each other and others with whom they might interact. Team members can role play scenarios like handling an irate customer, approaching human resources with a complaint, organizing a group project with others on her team and advocating for her company when facing criticism of it online and face to face.

After each interaction, the manager leading the activity can break down the actions each employee took and lead a discussion about what went right, what went wrong and how to navigate that type of interaction with the group.

Teaching Colleagues New Skills

Another engaging way for employees to develop their verbal communication skills is to teach each other about their personal skills and talents. This activity also helps team members get to know each other better.

Employees can plan short five- to 10-minute presentations teaching the group something about which they are knowledgeable, like how to spell their names in American Sign Language or how to do a few basic yoga poses. By explaining their presentations to the group and walking them through their processes, employees learn how to break processes into steps, answer questions to help others understand and explain how the steps go together to complete the process.

Playing Verbal Communication Games

Games are fun activities for verbal communication development at all levels of an organization. Just because an activity is fun does not mean it is not an effective teaching tool. In fact, games are some of the most effective teaching tools because when team members are having fun, they give the activity their full attention and learn more from the activity. Learn about some of the verbal communication games.

Famous Pairs Game

Famous pairs, like peanut butter and jelly and salt and pepper, are written on sticky notes. The sticky notes are then torn in half, and each employee has a strip placed on her back. The employees then have to find the other halves of their pairs by asking each other questions. To make the activity more challenging, an activity leader can limit the types of questions employees may ask or impose a time limit.

Team members might be limited to asking yes or no questions, or they might be required to stand shoulder to shoulder and only communicate with colleagues to their immediate right or left, switching places within the row as they receive answers.

Building Blocks Game

In this activity, teams of three or more are each given two identical sets of blocks. One team member is the builder, one is the runner and one is the director. The builder and director stand on opposite ends of the room, and at his end, the director builds a structure with his set of blocks. The runner then has to run to the builder and convey what the director created so the builder can build the same structure using only the runner’s verbal description of the director’s piece.

Blindfold Communication Game

There are many ways to create games that involve blindfolding participants and forcing them to rely on their teammates’ verbal communication to complete tasks. One way to structure this type of game is to create an obstacle course and have team members guide blindfolded participants through them with verbal directions. Another fun blindfold game is to essentially play Marco Polo but in reverse: have team members guide their blindfolded colleagues to them using verbal instructions.

Another blindfold game is known as “get it together.” In this game, the team is divided into individual pairs. Within each pair, one partner is blindfolded. Items are placed in the middle of the room. The blindfolded partner must retrieve specific items from the middle of the room using the nonblindfolded partner’s instructions to determine which item to grab.

Because multiple teams are shouting instructions and retrieving items, each blindfolded partner must focus on tuning out distractions and listening only to his partner's communication.

Doing Verbal Communication Exercises

Verbal communication exercises can be as simple or complex as a company can afford them to be. This is not just in reference to the company’s ability to pay for a few sessions of verbal communication training. It also refers to the company’s time and other resources it can allocate to verbal communication development.

For some companies, leaving the office to build verbal communication skills through an external activity like a trivia night or an escape room is the most feasible, effective use of company time and resources. For other companies, “staying in” and using items from around the workplace like office furniture and supplies to stage verbal communication games and activities is a more efficient use of the company’s professional development budget. In some scenarios, even this is not an option.

For teams with little time and access to small spaces and few props, verbal communication activities that only require a notepad and a pen – and in some cases, nothing more than the team members’ attention – can be just as effective as big-budget training sessions. In any verbal communication activity, team members’ engagement is the most important ingredient for success.

Ongoing Verbal Skills Development

These activities are not just for building foundations for strong verbal communication skills. They can be used to refresh employees’ skills and even retrain employees whose communication skills have slipped. Effective communication is not a skill that can be taught once, but one that needs continual revisiting and development.

The point of using games and other activities to build and maintain communication skills is to keep the team engaged and proactive about their progress. An exercise that forces team members to think on their feet is much more engaging and entertaining than a slideshow or lecture about verbal communication. Entertaining employees will keep them engaged because when they are entertained, they are eager for more of the entertainment.